Is the Asian Century a century for women?
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Ladies, this could be our chance at a level playing field.
We're in the Asian Century. And as the Australia in the Asian Century White Paper on our place within the region outlines, there are enormous opportunities available for those willing to stand up and take part.
The strategic paper prepared by former Treasury secretary Ken Henry, outlines 25 key objectives on how Australia can take advantage of the rising middle class of Asia. It covers emerging opportunities for business, education, government, agriculture, tourism, science and technology, banking and finances, sport and manufacturing.
They're opportunities that with enough access and time for education, we can seek to exploit ourselves, and ensure young girls are in the mix as much as boys. These sorts of opportunities don't necessarily require a network, particular connections or membership of a certain club. They don't even require a quota-based system to ensure women are fairly represented.
These opportunities start in schools – with the government already adopting the paper's recommendation that all school students have the opportunity to learn one key Asian language from Kindergarten.
And they run as high up as board positions, with the government also adopting a recommendation for a target that one third of ASX200 board positions be filled by those with Asia expertise by 2025.
The overall ambition of these objectives is so big that it'll be impossible not to consider how they can ensure female talent isn't wasted: Australia will seek to see its GDP per person enter the world's top 10 by 2025, raising the average real national income per person from $62,000 to $73,000.
These are all opportunities and ambitions that will cement Australia's place in an economic region that will become the world's largest by the end of this decade.
But best of all they're opportunities that can, with the right infrastructure and support in place (and it must be noted that no money's yet been allocated to back these recommendations), be positioned as up for the taking by individuals, no matter what their gender, age and background.
The White Paper finds that one of Australia's key strengths is its people – a highly-skilled, adaptable and creative workforce.
We all know that's true. But right now, we're not making the most of this incredible pool of talent.
If we're seriously going to commit to the Asian Century – to gaining the language, cultural and business skills required to become a pivotal player within the region – then we have no choice but to ensure that women are included at all levels. We're 51% of the population, and will therefore make up 51% of the talent required to make this work.
It starts with training up the future leaders of tomorrow, ensuring girls are taking advantage of the push to prioritise Asian languages in schools as much as boys – and allowing that education in business, in cultural ties, in secondments and postings overseas, to continue for women throughout their tertiary studies and into their careers.
"Success for an open Australia in a middle-class Asia starts in the classrooms, training centres and lecture theatres in our nation," Gillard was reported as saying yesterday.
Let's ensure no woman misses the opportunity.